A historic transformation

STANDING NEAR THE paddle wheel, which will accompany the floor to ceiling paddle wheeler boat inside the folklore museum, are, from left, project manager Betsy Ladwig, and volunteers Wyatt Dibelius and Gordon DeBruin. Joe Schulz photo

by Joe Schulz

A small leaning building in Princeton has been bringing people together for generations.

In the mid-1800s it took the effort of 40 yoke of oxen and three teams of horses to relocate the structure from the struggling St. Marie settlement to 630 Water St.

Currently the effort of more than 100 volunteers has gone into converting the decrepit retail space into the Princeton Historical Society Folklore Museum.

When renovated, the building will resemble its original 1800s feedstore design and will tell the stories of the people who watched Princeton evolve over the years. Displays will preserve the history of individuals, events and transportation.

“You can go anywhere in Princeton and see artifacts, but we’re going to take those artifacts and tell a story through those artifacts about the people behind them,” project manager Vickie Wielgosh said.

After the historical society purchased the property, president Marj Mlodzik approached Wielgosh, who had been involved in restoration projects before. When Mlodzik asked Wielgosh to help build a new museum, she couldn’t refuse.

“I drew something up, took it to the board and it kind of settled there for six months,” Wielgosh said.

A concept drawing shows what the floor-to-ceiling paddle boat could look like inside the building. submitted photo

After the project eventually got the green light, she handpicked Betsy Ladwig to share project management duties because they had worked together on several projects in the past and are longtime friends.

“I just knew she had to be my partner in crime because we work together so well,” Wielgosh said.

When the project began, the duo decided to target volunteers instead of monetary donations because a separate renovation in town already was seeking funds.

“We’d ask people for their talents and to donate that rather than donate money,” Ladwig said.

The building has been renovated by volunteer electricians, carpenters, welders and people from all walks of life.

“We’ve got people from our community, the surrounding area and further out,” Ladwig said. “And then we got the high school kids. They started volunteering. Then we had some Amish volunteers. And now we’re bringing in inmates from the Waupun Correctional Institute, and they’re going to make picture frames for us.”

One individual donated all the wood used to remodel the floor inside the museum.

Derrick Luck is dedicated to saving old buildings. When he can’t save a building, he removes all the wood that can be salvaged and sells it.

“Derrick Luck doesn’t answer one in 100 phone calls; he’s just that busy,” Ladwig said. “But he answered mine.”

After speaking with Wielgosh on the phone and looking at the property, Luck not only donated all the wood for the floor, he converted it from barn wood into interconnecting floorboards.

One of the goals when renovating the space was to ensure that future generations wouldn’t have to re-do the renovations years down the line.

“On the outside we used aluminum, but the wood was all rotted and we didn’t want to have somebody else in 20 years go through that again,” Ladwig said.

Ladwig noted the project has created a bond and a sense of community between the volunteers who’ve dedicated their time to the reconstruction.

“I never thought we would bring this many people together,” she said

Volunteers work to install the new ceiling. submitted photo

Because it’s entirely reliant on volunteers, the project doesn’t have a set end date.

When the first phase of the project is complete, as patrons enter the building, they will see the stories of individuals.

“We’re going to have an interchangeable display of photos of people with their story,” Wielgosh said.

There also will be an audio/video recording station set up, where people will be able to record their stories. The recordings will be archived by the museum for future generations.

As visitors continue through the museum, they will see vignettes telling the tales of taverns, hotels, shops and shopkeepers.

After passing the vignettes, visitors will view a floor-to-ceiling paddle wheeler boat.

“You’re going to be able to walk up the ramp and through it [into the next room],” Wielgosh said.

Once through the paddle wheeler, folks will enter the travel display, which will take them through the evolution of travel from horse and buggy to airplanes, and will feature a display for each mode of transportation.

The museum also will have movable displays, a space for meetings and presentations and an area for folks to do research.

Despite the progress made by volunteers, the project needs help in order to see its way through to completion.

“Even though we have had an overwhelming number of community volunteers, our diminished funds will not allow us to finish this most important work of protecting our heritage,” the project managers wrote in a flyer distributed at the Princeton Flea Market.

Donations may be made at US Bank in Princeton or by sending a check to PO Box 71, Princeton, WI 54968.

Another way to support the Folklore Museum is to attend author Chad Lewis’ presentation of the “Bizarre History of Wisconsin,” Saturday, Aug. 24 at 6 p.m. For tickets call 708-425-0921.

For more information about how to get involved, call 920-291-5434 or 920-229-9436.